Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently completed one year in office, has, in an exclusive interview with Smita Prakash, editor, ANI, said the opposition alleging that his government is a “suit boot ki sarkar” is definitely better and more acceptable than being labelled a “suitcase” (ki sarkar), and satirically added, that after ruling for sixty years, the Congress has suddenly remembered the poor.
Excerpts from the interview with ANI:
Thank you for speaking with ANI, Mr Prime Minister and congratulations on completion of one year of the government. In a scale of 1-10 what would you grade your government?
It is for the people of this country to grade and evaluate us. How can I take away their right? I have presented my report card to the country. Recently, the media has published the findings of some surveys. You would already have seen them. I can only say that we have laid a solid foundation on which the people can rate us.
You came in with the promise of "achche din". Have you been able to meet the goals that you set for yourself in the first year of the government?
Yes. I am fully satisfied with the work that we have done. The most satisfying part of this year is that we have lived up to the promise that our intentions will be pure and our actions will be driven by long-term national interest. Recall the situation one year ago. Massive corruption at various levels of the government gave rise to scams on a regular basis. Our precious natural resources were going into the hands of a chosen few.
In contrast, there are neither any charges of corruption against my government nor any scandals. Corruption was seen as the biggest problem. We have given a clean, transparent and an efficient government. Burey dino ki vidayee hui hai. (Bad days are over). Is this not achche din for the country?
What has been the single big success in the past year?
The achievements and successes of my government are numerous. However, I know that the success of a government’s journey lies in reaching the last man. Therefore, our efforts were directed towards the poor and marginalised. We have also paid special attention to the remote corners of the country. Our objective is to transform the quality of life, infrastructure and services. We have worked simultaneously on all fronts which bring a smile on the face of the common man.
I can give you some examples. From controlling food prices to enhancing farm productivity; improving railways to strengthening roads; generating electricity to its 24x7 availability; building school toilets to setting up IITs, IIMs and AIIMS; building houses for the homeless to upgrading our heritage cities; cleaning surroundings to bridging the digital divide; making world class products to skilling and employment generation; strengthening the banking system to funding the unfunded; ensuring labour welfare to providing social security to common man; rejuvenating rivers to irrigating fields; from enhancing co-operation with states to deepening foreign relations; we have worked at an energetic pace and with innovative spirit.
Bringing back black money was a major electoral promise, but then your party president, Amit Shah gave the word ‘jumla’ to it and Arun Shourie criticised the procedures adopted by the finance ministry. How committed is your government in bringing back black money to India?
My government is fully committed on the issue of black money. We want to crack down severely on tax evasion and black money. I had taken up this issue with world leaders during the G-20 summit. In our very first cabinet meeting, we formed a SIT (special investigation team). Then, we presented a new legislation in Parliament which is very stringent. We want to make it more difficult to evade taxes and siphon money abroad. We are also aggressively pursuing cases against those who have stashed funds illegally in foreign banks. Recently, the names of some such persons have been revealed. We are also trying to move towards cashless transactions. We want to make maximum use of ICT in our tax administration.
At the same time, we want to remove the discretion which causes corruption and generation of black money. Hence, we promulgated ordinances in sectors like coal and mines. It has proved to be a good step. We have generated Rs 3.30 lakh crore for the country so far through transparent auction of some coal mines. Similar is the case with auction of spectrum. I can say that if your intentions are noble, you are sure to get success and required support.
Key bills like the Land Acquisition Bill have got stiff opposition from the opposition. They have been able to create doubts about the government’s intention. What do you have to say?
The opposition to our land bill is totally unjustified and unfortunate. We have not made any changes for the private industry. Moreover, if you have money, you don’t need a Land Acquisition Act to accumulate land. Some individuals have done so in Rajasthan, Haryana, Shimla, Delhi etc. Land acquisition becomes necessary for government-driven strategic and development activities, especially in undeveloped areas. This too is done mostly by the state governments. We have made changes only in response to demands of the states. The benefits of these changes will also accrue to the rural poor in terms of irrigation, housing, electrification, as well as better physical and social infrastructure.
In this country, the Land Acquisition Act was almost 120 years old. The Congress-led governments used the same Act after independence. Suddenly, before the last parliamentary elections, the Congress went to another extreme by legislating an Act, which is neither in the interest of farmers nor in the interest of the country's development. Now, they are not even ready to sit and discuss. We believe in dialogue with all political parties. I have personally appealed in Parliament that we are ready to open a dialogue with political parties and consider their suggestions. I hope that the parties will cooperate on issues of larger national importance without getting into political calculations.
How are you going to convince the farmers of this country that you mean well?
The proposed Land Acquisition Bill focuses on benefitting the farmer and balancing the long-term interests of the nation. The world is changing fast. Even farmers need canals to irrigate, roads to transfer products from farms to markets. They need hospitals, schools and houses. Farmers want modern amenities in their vicinity and jobs in formal sectors for their sons and daughters. I have always believed that if we want inclusive development, we need amenities. We need to match the development of such amenities with agricultural growth. This is what the bill strives to do while safeguarding the interests of farmers. Our amendments only aim to do away with the bureaucratic bottlenecks in the 2013 Act. I am sure the farmers of this country will understand where their real welfare lies.
Agriculture is in distress in the country. To a large extent the problem is endemic and decades of mismanagement have resulted in the present situation but how does your government plan to stem the tide of farmer suicides and farming stress?
The root causes of the problem find mention in your question itself. This is a very important issue and the government is concerned about it. We have responded to the recent agrarian crisis with alacrity. We have undertaken several reforms. The Union government has enhanced the relief norms for compensation against crop loss by 50 per cent. The limit of minimum crop damage, for grant of compensation, has been reduced from 50 per cent to 33 per cent. Norms have been relaxed to allow procurement of damaged food grains at MSP rates. The target of agricultural credit has been enhanced in our two consecutive budgets.
But as you said, the problem in agriculture is endemic. Nothing much was done for six long decades. But we have started long-term steps for the farm sector. To address the issue of access to irrigation for every farm, and efficient utilisation of water, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana has been started. The Blue Revolution, which aims to improve production and productivity in the fisheries sector, is also an action point. We have launched the soil health card scheme. The price stabilisation fund with a corpus of Rs 500 crore has also been set up for perishable commodities. The Rashtriya Gokul Mission has been commenced with the objective of conserving and developing indigenous cattle breeds. We have made honest and sincere efforts for rural development. I have recently launched the Kisan Channel for giving timely information to farmers on inputs and markets. In the coming days, I would like to see more focused action on increasing farm productivity, rural industrialisation, skill development in rural areas and rural trades, and faster investments in rural infrastructure including cold chain.
The opposition has termed your government as suit boot ki sarkar. What is your take on this allegation?
Suit-boot is definitely more acceptable than suitcase. After ruling for sixty years, the Congress has suddenly remembered the poor. People of this country have suffered and remained poor due to short-sighted policies of the Congress. Many countries of the world have surpassed us on all accounts including poverty removal. The Congress did incremental work so as to keep the issue relevant for next election. Did the coal and spectrum scandals or the Commonwealth Games fiasco benefit the poor? Everyone knows who were their beneficiaries -- some chosen industrialists and contractors. The result of Congress’s politics and governance of sixty years is that poverty is still our biggest challenge. One-fourth of the families are without shelter. Health, education, water, electricity and roads are even bigger unrealised dreams for a large number of citizens of this country. You should ask them: If you were pro-poor, why does poverty still exist in India?"
The opposition says that your government is pro-industrialists.
Those who gave away precious natural resources like coal and spectrum to their favourite industrialists have no right to say this. We are working for the common man of the country.
• In the very initial months of our government, we took up the task of providing toilets in all schools. Don't the children of the poor study in these public schools?
• We implemented the Jan Dhan scheme and opened more than 14 crore bank accounts for financial inclusion. Earlier also, there were banks, as well as people without bank accounts. What did they do all these years?
• The so called pro-poor have been just repeating that there is leakage in subsidy. We used technology to ensure that LPG subsidy reaches the targeted person directly;
• We have launched MUDRA Bank for financing 6 crore small vendors and businesses 61 per cent of whom are SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities;
• We have launched the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana which the Congress did not think of in sixty years;
• We have planned to see that by 2022, no family remains without a roof over its head;
• The soil health card scheme has been launched to enhance farm productivity and reduce expenses, thereby enhancing the farmer’s income;
• We have come out with a comprehensive social security scheme for the poor and marginalised, old and those with low income levels;
• The Swachh Bharat Mission has been started to see that health and hygiene issues of the poor do not affect the working capacity and output of the poor and labourers;
• The Indian Railways, on which the common man travels, is being changed for the better
• We have set up the skill development ministry to enhance employability of the youth to whom we are committed to provide jobs through initiatives like ‘Make in India’. In the past, the country had been led into an economy of jobless growth.
• We provided for reservation of women in the police forces of Union Territories. This was done even when there were no elections around the corner.
• Through the regime of coal auction that we have put in place, more than Rs 3 lakh crore have already been generated for the less-developed states of India. This money will be used for the poor of those states.
These are just a few examples. Why were these things not done in the past sixty years? Who prevented them? Their worry is not that we are not pro-poor. Their worry is that they are being exposed as not being pro-poor. People are asking them: “If the Modi government can think and do this in six to nine months, why could you not think and do it in sixty years?"
You have travelled to 17 countries in 12 months…something that nobody expected you to do as you were seen as a novice on foreign policy matters. But you seem to enjoy running the country’s foreign policy. Any comments…
Foreign engagements are international obligations on the part of the prime minister. All prime ministers have to do this. Moreover, this is an integrated world. We have to attend international, multilateral and bilateral summits, and build ties with our neighbours and other nations. Our foreign policy is mature and there is a full-fledged mechanism to pursue it. I have only added an element of dynamism to it. We have strived to strongly further our economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. We have endeavoured to nurture new economic partnerships and tap reserves of energy, minerals, technology and finance from major economies.
In real terms, do you see that the Chinese will actually deliver on the financial pledge they have done, that the United States will open up its markets for India, that Pakistan will give up its anti-India agenda? That our smaller neighbours will stop seeing us as a bully?
Yes, I am sure that the commitments and agreements will be implemented. We have received a commitment from the Government of Japan for facilitating public and private funding of 3.5 trillion Yen -- or approximately US $35 billion -- over the next five years; there are agreements with China on two industrial parks and intended investments of US $20 billion; there are investment plans of about US $42 billion from US companies over the next five years. Russia has proposed to manufacture helicopters in India. With Australia and Canada, we have signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements, and other agreements to strengthen our energy security. With the United States, we have moved forward in implementation of the civil nuclear agreement and signed a significant partnership agreement to use renewable energy for rapidly expanding rural access to energy. There has been good response from financial institutions, including pension funds from Korea, Canada, Australia and the US. There is a strong support in all major economies for our "Make in India" programme.
In the neighbourhood, there has been forward movement on the 5600 MW Pancheshwar project in Nepal that was stuck for the last 25 years. Similarly, with Bangladesh we have settled the land boundary issue. We are working with a spirit of mutual benefit. There is no question of bullying anyone. Our recent help to Nepal during the natural calamity shows that our approach is brotherly. With Pakistan too, we will pursue our long-standing approach. We will continue our efforts to advance cooperation and connectivity, without compromising our national security.
If we were to return to domestic issues, you have come for criticism from many for not being able to reign in vitriolic elements in your party who have made disparaging remarks against minorities. What do you say?
Our Constitution guarantees religious freedom to every citizen and that is not negotiable. The tradition of welcoming, respecting and honouring all faiths is as old as India itself. As Swami Vivekananda said, “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.” This principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths has been a part of India’s ethos for thousands of years. And that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India. I expect that everyone will understand and respect this.
Why do some elements in your party feel emboldened to say awful things even though they ought to know that a prime minister of India cannot really support bigots in his cabinet?
I have said this before and I say it again -- any discrimination or violence against any community will not be tolerated. My position on this is very clear: Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas. We stand for each of the 1.25 billion Indians regardless of caste or creed and we will work for the progress of each of them. Every faith in our country has equal rights; it is equal not only before the law but also before society.